Beyond the Headlines

Since writing “Why as a Jew…I vote Blue” I have received many private and public comments from friends, family and acquaintances, either on my Facebook page, emails, but mostly in private messages and WhatsApp. Most of them have been exceedingly kind, encouraging and grateful. Many thanking me for having the courage to speak out. A few, it probably won’t surprise you were quite critical, and thankfully even fewer, though no less significant were exceptionally sharp, and in some cases quite hurtful. Such is the world we live in. But there was one comment in particular, that wasn’t even a direct response, but on another thread motivated likely by similar and all-too-familiar political discussions, that stood out to me and seemed too important to ignore. It was the notion that somehow, views like mine were nothing more than part of a “color war” like in summer camp. I couldn’t help but think that somehow that was a veiled (or perhaps not so veiled) reference to my piece, given the title. So I feel the need to clarify.

First of all, I would hope that anyone who knows me, or at least has followed my feeble and inconsistent blogging understands that there is nothing in my views or politics that condones tribalism or subscribes to a “color war” mentality. Quite the opposite, a point which I had hoped to make early on in my piece. Though I may have fallen short of that standard at times, it has always been my aim to provide a thoughtful and non-partisan view. This is not about a color war. It’s about the war on color. And religion. And a free press. And all the other founding principles that make our country great, and many of which have their roots in our own religion and religious view of how society functions. “Be kind. The rest is commentary,” we have often heard.

But it got me thinking as to why it is that someone might assume that I was taking a “color war” mentality in my approach to these very sad and tragic problems we are dealing with. And again, I’m not even certain this was a reference at all to my writing…but it could be…so it got me thinking. And I realize that part of the problem we have with each other at this stage in our country’s history is that we fail to read beyond the headline. Literally and figuratively. I’ll admit guilt in occasionally having done so myself. We make snap judgements and then we move on, or we stew about it without trying to dig or read for deeper understanding, or we just conveniently choose at a moment, quite different from the choices we make at other times, because there is no consistency these days, to suddenly declare “I don’t want to get involved in politics on Facebook anymore”. I can’t help but scratch my head and chuckle when I see other people who were never shy about getting into politics when the shoe was on the other foot, climb on to that bandwagon, as well intentioned as I think it is, and suddenly declare that they are now going to bury their heads in the sand. “Actions speak louder than words” I often hear. The problem with that is, I know someone who used that phrase regularly as a defense for the insults and hurtful words they delivered on a frequent basis and I know that doesn’t make people feel any better. In fact,that phrase is meant to inspire a higher calling so that people will walk the walk and not just talk the talk. It’s not meant as an excuse for foul, insulting or degrading language.

But there is an even bigger issue here which is this: Why bother? What’s the point? I don’t honestly expect to change anyone’s mind with what I write. I realized that a long time ago. At the most, I hope that I might share some insight that will elevate the thinking and stir our conscience. I was raised to believe that when you see something that doesn’t look right, speak up. Because silence is complicity, and I refuse to be complicit. But I realize at the end of the day, my true purpose is not to change your mind. It’s for you to understand mine. And perhaps appreciate the fact that we are indeed not so different. That we are more similar than dissimilar. That there is more that unites us than divides us. It’s cliché, I know. But in a time where every other word from news anchors and pundits when referring to our current state of affairs is “unprecedented”, I think a cliché or two would be nice right now.

This all came more sharply into focus when I was forced to respond to a dear friend of mine who upon reading my comments asked me why I was only about hating Trump and not about what I stand for. And so I’ve included my response below with some editorializing for greater context. I know this is long. Those of you who are worn out, or who already got the point or who have made up your minds can stop here. The rest of you…read beyond the headline. But please don’t reduce or trivialize my grieving and my anger over the events in Pittsburgh and the rest of the country as a mere color war. I’m sorry if I can’t be more zen and spiritual right now. My grief is stuck in the anger phase. I long for the days when Facebook will return to a collection of bad jokes, silly one liners and making fun of foodies and selfies. But for now, this is what we have to deal with. And this is how I choose to deal with it.

* * *

I will be completely non-partisan and offer my own criticism of many Democrats including Bill Nelson in my home state of Florida for running campaigns that only talk about the negative, with no positive vision for the future. If there is indeed no “blue wave” that will be the most costly lesson Democrats will learn. You cannot lead without vision. That said, I still put the immediate priority in favor of balance and keeping the current toxic style of leadership in check to hopefully bring us back to a more thoughtful center where I believe most of the country still lives politically.

[It’s] Not hatred of Trump. [It’s] hatred of “birtherism”. Hatred of racism. Hatred of lies like “I went to the rally because we opened Wall Street the day after 9/11” Hatred of self absorption to the point of being more worried about his hair than the grief of others. Hatred that I can’t express my criticism without being accused of hatred. The only thing I hate is intolerance and ignorance. To me, Trump is the lead symbol of both. As Jews [and Americans], our failure to recognize and offer a clear rebuke in the face of it, is to me, an absolute moral failure I simply cannot fathom. I had no trouble calling out Obama when he referred to the victims of Paris as “a bunch of folks in a Deli”, even though I was not that long before still a registered Democrat. Why is it so hard for Republicans to do the same? This is what I simply cannot comprehend. The day after Trump was elected, a confederate flag went up in my neighborhood! On my street! I saw pick up trucks with “white power” bumper stickers like I never had before. While so many are shocked and surprised [by the tragic events in Pittsburgh] , there are many of us who have been trying to sound the alarm for [at least] the past two years.

I fail to see the relevance of the economy in any of this. Innocent people are dead because of hate and the speech that fuels it, emboldens it, and by failing to unequivocally denounce it time and time again, is complicit with it.

[What am I for?] I am for access to healthcare, I am for access to birth control so that we have fewer abortions, I am for safe abortions so that we have fewer maternal deaths, I am for the government staying out of my exam room so I can ask gun owners if their home and their guns are secured and safe from children, and so I can counsel my patients regarding their personal health decisions without either one of us feeling like criminals, I am for easing restrictions on small business (including the effect that undermining the ACA has on small businesses-like mine) I am for protecting the environment and developing a green economy that will transform our relationship with countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran to one where we truly are masters of our own destiny and where we can be true defenders of Israel without worrying about whose enemy’s enemy is our friend this week, I am for common sense gun laws that ban instruments of death like assault weapons and make it harder to get a gun than it is to vote, instead of the other way around, I am for a free and open media that can express bias as long as it is at least rooted in some basis of fact so that we can be free to make our own decisions, and offer criticism without fear of being labeled a “snowflake” a “libtard” or a “hater”. I am for patriotism, not nationalism. I am for country first, but not party first. I am for a Republican party that once emphasized restoring honor and integrity to the White House. I am for a Democrat party that preferred empowerment by lifting all boats with a rising tide of innovation and ingenuity, rather than a shallow pool of mediocrity and handouts. I am for empathy and caring for our fellow citizens who are among the less fortunate, but making them leaders in their own destiny, not victims of their own circumstance. Above all…I am for a country and a democracy whose seat was once referred to as “the Shining City on a Hill” and that despite our differing maps to get to that destination inspired us to seek that which brings us together, rather than calling our political opponents and critics “enemies”.

I hope that leaves you with a better understanding of my positions. We all want the same thing. There was a time when all we disagreed on was how best to get there and take credit for the other side’s work when we “borrowed” their ideas and claimed them as our own.

While some may refer to my comments as vitriolic, I will say they are passionate and bold and intended to awaken and restore us to our sense of decency when many seem to be behaving like cultist zombies. If it takes shock and vivid imagery to get my message across, the last people I expect to complain are those who make so much light of “political correctness.” When did empathy and compassion become a weakness in America?

I believe we all want the same things. We just disagree on how best to achieve them. Unfortunately we live in a climate where opposing views are labeled, mocked and derided. And I just wish we could all at least agree that when that happens, it is a failure of leadership. It’s a toxic environment that currently exists. And the responsibility for that leadership belongs with the President, like it or not. He can make it better, or he can make it worse. He sets the tone. Sadly, I don’t see much hope for him to change his attitude or rhetoric. If his Jewish children have to counsel him on the correct way to respond to antisemitism, that’s what those of us who deal with faulty software would refer to as a bug, not a feature. It’s simply not in him. But it should at least be in the rest of us. In my own small microcosm, I have witnessed first hand the very negative and toxic effects of narcissism and self interest in leadership that comes at the expense of others. And I have also witnessed the very real transformation that occurs when that leadership changes. These are not simply theoretical or philosophical concerns. To me, they are very concrete and observable. Change the dialogue. Change the outcome. Change the world. Peace.

About the Author
Nigel Spier is a practicing OB/GYN in Hollywood, Florida who has served as Chief of the Department of OB/GYN at Memorial Regional Hospital, President of the Broward County Medical Association and on the board of his local chapter of ARMDI. He is active in many Jewish organizations and charities and is an eternal optimist and advocate for reform, peace and global prosperity.